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Research article2013Peer reviewedOpen access

Welfare of entire male pigs is improved by socialising piglets and keeping intact groups until slaughter

Rydhmer, Lotta; Hansson, Monica; Lundström, Kerstin; Brunius, Carl; Andersson, Kristina


In today's production systems, pigs raised for slaughter are mixed many times, resulting in stress and fighting. The negative consequences of mixing are probably more severe with entire males than with castrates, as they fight more. In this project, we studied a system without castration where entire male pigs met unfamiliar pigs only once. Piglets from two litters were allowed to visit each other from circa 2 weeks of age through an opening between the farrowing pens. Entire males from these litters were kept in intact groups from weaning and onwards, and they were slaughtered pen-wise in intact groups. Control pigs were raised and weaned in their litters and mixed with unknown pigs when moved to the growing-finishing unit. They were slaughtered by split marketing based on individual weight. In total, 96 entire males from 24 litters were studied. Activity and social interactions of pigs were studied by direct observations on three observation occasions per pen for pigs kept in intact groups and four occasions for control pigs. All pigs were inspected for skin lesions during raising and at slaughter. Results showed that fewer pigs in intact groups were resting (17.1% v. 28.5%; P50.044) and they showed less aggressive behaviour (16.1 v. 27.7 number of interactions per hour; P50.001) than control pigs when moved to the growing-finishing unit. They also got fewer skin lesions compared with control pigs (15 v. 35; P,0.001). Consequently, control pigs tended to grow slower during the 1st week after mixing; however, growth rate during the whole growing-finishing phase did not differ between treatments (P50.205). Control pigs directed more aggressive behaviour towards non-litter mates than towards litter mates during the whole growing-finishing phase, whereas pigs from the other treatment made no difference between litter mates and other familiar pigs. At 67 kg, there was more sexual behaviour (mounting) among control pigs (7.6 v. 3.4; P50.033), but after slaughter no differences were found in testis weight or boar taint compounds. At slaughter, more entire males that were slaughtered pen-wise and kept in intact groups were without skin lesions compared with the mixed control pigs (74% v. 13%; P,0.001). This study shows that the welfare of entire male pigs can be improved by socialising piglets and by keeping them in intact groups during raising and at slaughter.

Published in

2013, Volume: 7, number: 9, pages: 1532-1541
Publisher: Cambridge University Press (CUP)